Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tommy' s First Day

As you know I was a teacher. I took a course/degree in what was called 
'special education' at the time (early 1970's).

My first few years teaching in public schools in Nova Scotia was with children
who had special needs or more appropriately those with academic challenges.

I fell in love with this student population and for the next 10 years I spent my days
with these wonderful (yes, and sometimes very challenging) human beings.

I have a lot of 'stories' that I keep tucked away 
and on occasion I reminisce about those times.

And lately I have been 'pressured' by this fella in Wales (some of you know him...
his name is John and he has a great blog called 'Going Gently') click
to share some of those stories about my past.

There is always one student who stands out for me when I think back about
my teaching days.
His name is Tommy (not his real name). He has Downs Syndrome.
I met him when he was 16 years old and his first year in high school.

He, along with a few other 'new ones', were very nervous about their new school setting.
I remember that first day very well.

There was to be an assembly at 9 A.M. in the gymnasium for all new students.
Even though back then my students were all segregated
 from the 'others' as far as classrooms go,
we would be included in this assembly along with all the 
other 300 or so new students.

At about 8:45 we left our classroom and headed towards the staircase 
(about 20 stairs in all) to ascend to the second floor where the gym was.

Tommy stopped cold at the first step. He was frozen and couldn't move.
I didn't mention that Tommy was a big boy....
a very big boy of about 250 pounds.

I asked him what the problem was. He said that he had never climbed steps before
and that he wanted to use the ramp where it would be easier.

I thought for a second.....'Now if I let him use the ramp, he will want to use it 
all the time and therefore not lose this fear he has of stairs, and not
to mention getting his own way from the start.'

I could tell that first day that Tommy  always got what he wanted and that he
was 'in charge' at home. I had to let him know that he was not at home today 
and would therefore have to do what everyone else does.

Tommy was NOT happy about this one little bit. He began to protest and use
some of his 'special tactics' he used on his mother. He didn't know me 
well enough yet.

I told him that there was no choice in this matter 
and that we would meet him up in the gym and the
rest of us headed up.

Tommy stayed down below. I did have the teacher's assistant
check on him but he stayed there for about 10 minutes.

I am sure that when Tommy realized that everyone else was in the gym
and he was the only one not there, he 'bit the bullet' 
and attempted the staircase on his own.

The assistant met him at the top and they both walked into the assembly
and over towards us. Tommy had a big smile on his face 
as we made eye contact.
And that was that!

Tommy, for the next 5 years, was up and down those stairs like nobody's business.

How does one 'toilet train' a big boy when his mother is not around to 'help' him?
Next Friday I will tell you all about that one.
I know you can hardly wait!!!


  1. God bless your sweet heart. I know you were a great teacher.


  2. Kind but firm. You have the perfect balance, Jim. You did this child the greatest favour by standing your ground. It would have been so much easier to just give in.

  3. Good call and very well played. It takes an understanding and caring heart to guide the lost in the face of a challenge.
    I'm sure you and my Eddy could talk for days of all the things you've seen over the years. I look forward to more stories.

  4. Great story, Jim. I taught special needs children, too, but mine had severe reading disabilities. Sometimes we teach the students, and sometimes they teach us!

  5. Great story! I suspect Tommy learned more than just how to climb stairs that day. Learning that new skill probably boosted his self-confidence too.

  6. I can hardly wait! I'm so very glad you've decided to share some of your special stories. I've always had a special place in my heart for Downs' kids...just so much love and sweetness there!

  7. You're right - I can't wait for more heart-warming stories like this one. You did that boy a great service!

  8. Loved this story, Jim!

    Oh the kiddos who get what they want and are in charge at home!
    They come from every part of the ability continuum!

    You were spot on! Sped kids are just the kids you have to put toward independence, because if you don't they're sunk! I know you were an amazing teacher! Loved it ~ no power struggle ~ you just left him with a choice to sort out ~ and a little checking in from a TA to make sure he was okay as he decided!

    Kids know when they have accomplished a challenge for real ~ and that's what builds confidence and self esteem!

    Have a great day tomorrow!

    We could trade "toilet training" stories!
    I can't wait to hear yours!

  9. Lovely story, Jim, you should write a book.

  10. Jim-- it takes a very special person to tell those stories-- your gift is unique. The ability to devote patience and care to such special children is truly a special talent. You may not be teaching now--- but your patience and caring spirit is still very much a part of who you are---


Hey, I really like your comments and appreciate the time you took to do so.

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